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Professional rodeo returns to The Expo in Central Point

It's rodeo time in Central Point.

Look for 2,000-pound bulls, bucking horses, cowboys in chaps and cowgirls in tight jeans at the annual Wild Rogue Pro Rodeo at The Expo.

Rodeo is a true American tradition, with one foot set in the country's past and another in athletics. It's a sport filled with old-fashioned charm and top-notch two- and four-legged athletes.

When the U.S. pushed its borders in the West during the early 1800s, the cattle ranches that sprang up required plenty of cowhands to ride, herd, rope calves, brand and break horses. Cowboys would test their skills against each other for bragging rights. Soon enough, railroad lines expanded and ranchers could ship their cattle directly to markets in the East. The days of long cattle drives became a thing of the past.

Men like Buffalo Bill Cody — a rider for Pony Express at 14, a Union soldier in the Civil War, a scout for the U.S. Army during the Indian Wars, and a performer — founded Buffalo Bill's Wild West in 1883 and the cowboy way of life became part entertainment.

"It's my sense that you need more than just a rodeo," states rodeo announcer Will Rasmussen on The Expo's website. "People want to be entertained." Rasmussen's style is a mix that informs and entertains, making him one of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association's most popular announcers.

Rodeo clown JJ Harrison will make another of his not-to-be-missed appearances at this year's rodeo. Harrison is a 10-time Northwest Clown of the year and National Finals Rodeo Clown. This long-time middle-school teacher calls his career as a rodeo clown "a really fun road trip." And, he adds, "I always worry that people will someday realize it's not an act, it's just who I am."

For professional cowboys today, the largest rodeo in the U.S. is the PRCA. It hosts regional and national trials, including Wild Rogue Pro Rodeo, and its finals are held each year in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Wild Rogue Pro Rodeo Schedule:

Gates open at 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday, June 1 and 2, and 5 p.m. Saturday, June 3. The show begins at 7 p.m. in the Seven Feathers Resort Center at The Expo, 1 Peninger Road. To get there, take Exit 33 off I-5 and head east. Take the first left on Peninger Road. Plenty of parking will be available in front of the event center. 

The Rodeo Queen and Princess:

Wild Rogue Pro Rodeo Queen Mikayla Pinnell and Princess Larissa Hamilton will reside over the 2017 Wild Rogue Pro Rodeo.

Pinnell is a senior at Crater Lake Charter Academy in Eagle Point. She began riding in equine competitions at age 7 after receiving her first horse for Christmas. She's with the Southern Oregon Hunter Jumper Association and Eagle Point High School's Equestrian Team. She received the District Performance Champion Title in 2016. Pinnell hopes to raise awareness of the importance of helmet safety while riding at this year's rodeo.

Hamilton graduated in 2016 from Rogue River High School as salutatorian. She was a member of the 4-H Horse Project for eight years; a four-year varsity letterman in equestrian, soccer and basketball; and president of the Rogue Wranglers 4-H club and National Honors Society. She's studying to major in Wildlife Forestry Engineering at RCC and plans to transfer to Oregon State University.

Wild Rogue Pro Rodeo Events:

Bull riding is one of the more exciting — and dangerous — rodeo events. Riders sit on top of 2,000-pound bulls holding onto only a rope that's wrapped around the animal's chest. When a rider nods his head, the chute opens and bull and rider explode into the arena, twisting and turning. Riders must stay on the bull for eight seconds.

Bareback riding is considered more physically demanding than bull riding. A cowboy must stay on a bucking horse for eight seconds holding onto a leather rigging that looks like a suitcase handle. Riders also are judged for control and spurring techniques.

Tie-down roping requires quickness and accuracy with a lasso, and cowboys must be good horsemen and fast sprinters. Calves get a head-start out of the chute, then the riders go after them. Horses are trained to stop the moment a rider lassos a calf. Riders must dismount, run to the calf and tie any three of its legs together, while the horse pulls any slack out of the rope. When the cowboy is finished, he throws his hand in the air to signal judges.

Team roping — the only team event in professional rodeo — requires close timing between team members. Each team includes a header, a heeler and their horses. Like calves, steers also get a head start out of the chute. The header must lasso the steer around the head or horns while the heeler lassos both hind legs. The clock stops when the team finishes and both horses stand facing one another.

Steer wrestlers — or bulldoggers — use strength and technique in this rodeo sport. A rider must catch a steer by its horns with his hands, then ease off his horse to dig his boots into the ground and stop the steer. A bulldogger relies on his hazer, another rider who keeps the steer from veering away from the contestant.

Saddle bronc riding is considered a classic rodeo event. It's a test of balance, style and timing. The cowboy's aim is a fluid ride that synchronizes his spurring with the bronc's movements until the eight-second bell or whistle.

Barrel racing is a women's event at rodeos. There are no judges, a rider's time is the determining factor. Riders must circle three barrels in a cloverleaf pattern without knocking one over.

For kids, there's the ever-popular mutton bustin' event, where aspiring young cowboys and cowgirls can bust out aboard woolly mounts. Children must be between 5 and 8 and weigh less than 65 pounds to participate. As a precaution, helmets, long pants and shirts and protective vests must be worn.

Rascal Rodeo Event:

Young volunteers, champion rodeo riders, and rodeo royalty will help kids with special needs be cowboys and cowgirls for a day by teaching them rodeo events such as milking, calf-roping, steer-roping, bronc-riding and barrel racing. Only horses and ponies will be used. This event is free and will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 3, in the Seven Feathers Event Center.

Tickets and Information:

Tickets to Thursday's show are $10, $5 for ages 3 through 12. Tickets for general seating at Friday's or Saturday's show are $16, $8 for kids. Reserved seating is available Friday and Saturday for $19, $11 for kids. Purchase advance tickets at www.attheexpo.com and save $3 per ticket. Children 2 and younger get in free if they're on a parent's lap. 

After-Parties at the Rodeo:

After each night's show, parties will be held in the Rogue Saloon in Chaisson Park behind Seven Feathers. The free, outdoor parties will host a full bar, live music and dancing. Thursday's music will be provided by 105.1 The Wolf. Billy Lund and Whiskey Weekend will perform Friday, and Fogline will perform Saturday. The bar is open to ages 21 and older.

A 5-year-old tries his hand at mutton bustin' at a past Wild Rogue Pro Rodeo at The Expo in Central Point. [Mail Tribune / file photo]